Ananta Ripa Ajmera
advisor of Ayurveda at THE WELL
Ayurveda, a spiritual science (and the sister science to yoga), has a two-prong focus: health promotion and disease prevention. This science teaches us that health is our birthright — and that health will manifest when we live in harmony with nature.
Ayurveda is said to have been revealed to ancient seers or sages (called Rishis) in the depths of their meditations in the Himalayas thousands of years ago. These spiritual scientists spent their entire lifetimes simply observing nature and seeing what we can learn from nature’s wisdom.
"In Ayurveda, we see immunity as not being merely a matter of washing your hands, but rather as an entire lifestyle."
In Ayurveda, we see immunity as not being merely a matter of washing your hands, but rather as an entire lifestyle that includes the foods you eat, your daily routine choices, the behaviors you engage in and the all-natural herbs and spices you consume. Ayurveda strives to help us attain a balanced state of the body, mind, soul and five senses by showing us how to live in alignment with nature’s rhythms.
In Ayurveda, immunity also results from excellent digestion. Long before the gut microbiome and the concept of the “gut as the second brain” were discovered, the Ayurveda sages knew that a balanced digestion is the key to overall health and immunity to disease.
What’s Happening in Spring, Ayurvedically Speaking
The spring season is the time for a natural buildup of the heavy, dense, gross earth and water elements. These elements, in excess, create respiratory conditions like colds, coughs, difficulty breathing, mucous, phlegm as well as spring allergies.
What Ayurveda recommends doing at this time of the year, therefore, is to increase the amount of fire element, or heat, in the body, as heat is thought of as a means of purification of toxins that have accumulated in the body. Adding more of the fire element to your foods and beverages will help you break down some of the heavy earth and water elements we are experiencing in excess right now, and to digest what you consume more easily.
Here are my top three tips that I share with clients to help protect their immunity.
1 Eat warm, cooked foods and warming spices
You know how when you wash your dishes with cold water, they don’t get clean as easily as they do when you use hot water? Our bodies operate like this, too. This is why the first recommendation for protecting immunity that I offer my clients is increasing the temperature of your food and liquids.
Digestion is poetically envisioned as being like a fire in Ayurveda. When you put warm substances into a fire, they kindle it. Cold substances extinguish the fire. The fire of your digestion works the same way.
The act of cooking your food allows the stove (or slow cooker) to ‘pre-digest’ some of your food for you. This means that your body, which is lacking in fire at this time of the year (as compared to other times of the year) does not have to work as hard to process and metabolize what you eat.
When you add digestive spices like cumin seeds or powder and turmeric to your food, these spices are like friends that work to powerfully ignite your digestion. If your fire is very low (you will know it is if it takes you a long time to eliminate your food), you can also benefit from even more heating spices like garlic, ginger, black pepper and cloves.
Ayurveda takes a customized approach to determining what kinds of seasonal foods and spices you can benefit from. If you’re unsure of how much fire you have, therefore, it is a good idea to consult with a practitioner for personalized guidance. (Here’s more info about my 1:1 Ayurvedic consultations at THE WELL.)
2 Cook your food with ghee (clarified butter)
Modern research has started validating what the ancient Ayurvedic sages have known for thousands of years: Ghee is tremendously good for you. It is the highest known source of butyric acid, a beneficial fatty acid that boosts immunity, supports healthy levels of cholesterol, reduces fatty tissues, increases energy production, and regulates elimination. You can cook with it in place of your regular oils as an all-natural immunity booster that will support anyone, of any constitution.
3 Consume a few tablespoons of honey every day
Local honey has unique immunity-boosting and toxin-cleansing qualities, according to Ayurveda. It's great for preventing and combating colds, coughs, itching and water retention.
Similar to the concept of aged wine, the medicinal properties of certain substances (like white rice, ghee and honey) are believed in Ayurveda to actually increase over time. So if you're buying honey from your local farmer's market, ask them if they have one-year aged honey, as this is what is recommended in the ancient Ayurvedic texts for optimal immunity-boosting benefits.